Alberta politics excluding farm workers from workers’ compensation protection

New report accuses Alberta government of playing politics instead of acting to protect the province's farm workers.

Edmonton (16 Jan. 2015) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is welcoming a new report on farm workers' rights from Alberta's Parkland Institute.

Highest fatality rate of any occupation is in the agricultural industry yet Alberta government refuses to protect workers

The agricultural industry has a fatality rate among the highest of any occupation in the country, and farm workers face higher risk for a range of occupational cancers. Despite that reality, the Alberta government continues to exclude tens of thousands of Alberta farm workers from the provincial workers’ compensation system.

In a letter to Alberta's Premier, NUPGE's National President, James Clancy, expressed his concern about the high number of farm workers injured or killed on the job. 

He notes that "the lack of protections for agricultural workers is not confined to a single incident or criminal act. As you are no doubt aware, there are between 18-24 deaths in agricultural operations in Alberta annually. This includes as many as eight child deaths."

Politics behind the exclusion of farm workers from injury compensation

The reason is politics, argues Athabasca University associate professor of labour relations Bob Barnetson in a new Parkland Institute report called A dirty business: The exclusion of Alberta farm workers from injury compensation (report can be downloaded here).

“There is absolutely no justifiable reason for the ongoing exclusion of farm workers in Alberta from workers’ compensation coverage,” says Barnetson. “This report demonstrates that the government’s own attempts to justify the exclusion simply do not stand up."

Clancy agrees and goes further: "The existence of agricultural operations that employ workers—including child labourers—without providing the most basic health and safety standards is unacceptable and must be addressed. Not only do these operations violate the fundamental human rights of these workers for a safe workplace but they clearly violate a number of national and international human rights agreements."

Injured farm workers in Alberta face significant hardship

Alberta is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that does not require employers to provide mandatory workers’ compensation coverage to farm workers. What this means, argues Barnetson, is that if a farm worker is injured on the job, they are on their own in terms of wage-loss replacement, medical aid, and vocational rehabilitation.

In essence, costs related to injuries and occupational diseases for more than 90% of agricultural workers are shifted from employers onto the farm workers themselves, and ultimately onto taxpayers, who fund the public health care system. 

Face similar risks to other workers but denied coverage

Barnetson highlights how difficult it is to reconcile this exclusion with the hazardous, and sometimes cancer-causing, nature of farm work, and contrasts the exclusion of farm workers with the coverage offered to firefighters, an occupation with similar risks.

“Approximately 86% of workers in Alberta are covered by workers’ compensation, and firefighters — who also have a high risk of injury and of developing occupational cancer – have been given exceptional access to workers’ compensation benefits by the government. It is difficult to fathom that farm workers continue to be excluded.” 

The report concludes by identifying a number of strategies available to advocates seeking to extend basic workers’ compensation benefits to farm workers.

More information:

Parkland Institute

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

 

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